The Green Lantern Movie: Where It Went Wrong

The Green Lantern movie was disappointing. Here's why.

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By smedlybutler - 7/4/2011
By Michael Gaudini

Much was made about "Green Lantern" being the "Star Wars" of the DC Universe -- a sprawling space epic in which an unknowing protagonist is caught up in a galactic conflict. But where "Green Lantern" fails is exactly where the original "Star Wars" films succeed. They are fun, yet also serious when necessary; long, but did not drag; and above all, their "epic feel" was organic to the scripts, and never really felt that contrived. Let's diagnose the film, starting with the problems and ending with what it did right. Beware, here there be spoilers.

-The film was unfocused.
"Green Lantern" spent too much time with characters that really didn't matter that much. Some are more obvious: Tom Kalmaku and Amanda Waller. Their only real function was on a fan-service level, and their scenes did not really add much to the film. The only plot points that really occur when Kalmaku is around involve Hal Jordan (aka The Green Lantern) discovering his powers. He could do that just fine on his own.You might be thinking that Waller served to bring Hector Hammond into the movie. But really, the film could simply combine Hector Hammond and Waller into one character... named Hector Hammond.
Making Hammond a government official right off the bat could eliminate several unnecessary scenes in which government protocol needs to be explained to him and in which he does such stimulating things as teaches a class. This brings me to another point -- Hector Hammond's backstory is unnecessary and drags the story down. Even the film itself thinks so. Don't believe me? Ask yourself how much time the film actually spends recalling that Hammond, Jordan and Carol Ferris knew each other when they were younger. Aside from a few offhand references, no time at all. It seems like a half-hearted effort to give Hammond some kind of reason to kidnap Ferris and have Hal save the day.
The creators clearly wanted to juxtapose Jordan and Hammond. They both had daddy issues, they both gained their powers at the same time, etc... The scenes even collide visually to reinforce this. But at no point does it matter. Hammond's death means absolutely nothing. Neither does his father's. Jordan regrets not saving Senator Hammond from Hector for one whole line (which is more than the audience). Eliminate the father's character completely, eliminate Hammond's daddy-issues backstory. It's distracting and really doesn't matter at all to the story.I'm all for fleshing out characters, but take a look at "Star Wars" for a moment. The first movie involves a lot of setup in a limited time. The audience knows very little about Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) and Darth Vader in the original "Star Wars." Tarkin's some officer overseeing the construction of a battle station and Vader is some guy who betrayed all the Jedi. It gave us exactly what we needed to know, and then focused on the stuff that mattered: Luke, Leia, Han, etc...There's a lot packed into "Star Wars."
In the first cut of "Star Wars," Luke had some friends he met up with. One, named Biggs, joined the rebellion. Luke meets up with him again later as they attack the Death Star. Spoiler alert, Biggs blows up in the attack. Thing is, none of this really mattered at all, and the creative team understood this. Biggs wound up on the cutting room floor, which is where several "Green Lantern" characters should've ended up as well.
Additionally, some scenes could've been cut or trimmed. Like the scene where Hal first travels to OA and his body is scanned could have had some shots trimmed. Most of Hal and Carol's scenes together were the same thing. They used to be a couple and they aren't anymore. We get it, we don't need a bunch of scenes to reinforce this relationship. It is fairly clear.With all this space freed up, the writers could have spent a bit more time with Hal, the Corps. or even (and I can't believe I'm saying this) more action beats. Which brings me to my next critique... 
-There's not enough tension, not enough action.

I rarely call for more action sequences, but I really felt a dearth in "Green Lantern," probably because the main conflict involved a big ole' cloud slowly moving towards OA, then Earth for no reason. It takes so long to get there that we don't really feel the impending doom. There's no real tension. It's not like we keep cutting back to the Lanterns trying to stop this thing and failing and it getting closer and closer. They try once, then go "oh well" and sit around on OA doing nothing at all and we don't see Parallax again until the final battle.Without any real tension and with little action to quicken the pace, and with an excess of unnecessary plot points and scenes, the film drags. And when it finally reaches the climax... 
-There is a buildup, but no payoff.
Much is made of the Green Lanterns as this elite intergalactic military. We see them yelling in tandem, and have a shot of their combined willpower billowing off into space in the form of green energy. And then, when a massive threat faces the entire universe... they do nothing. True, they send a handful of Lanterns at first, then decide to sit on their hands. Instead, Hal Jordan (our hero!) faces it alone, mainly because he's the main character. They couldn't spare a few Lanterns to go attack it with Jordan?
Imagine if, at the end of "Star Wars," the rebels had said: "Screw it, we're abandoning this planet. Luke, go ahead and blow up the Death Star." Then Luke flies in alone and blows it up. Not only that, but he blows it up in a couple minutes.The real ending to "Star Wars" is actually fairly long. Lots of fun dogfights in space and then they finally blow up the Death Star, after building up for the entire movie that this Death Star is bad news bears. And worse, it's getting closer and closer to the rebel base,which we see happening. In "Green Lantern," we hear about Parallax getting close to Earth (who knows why, he wanted to go to OA to destroy the Guardians, then takes a detour for reasons that aren't fleshed out), but don't see it. Then, boom, he's there and Hal kills him in a few minutes. It's over too quickly. They tango a bit, Parallax talks some smack, and then Hal punches him into the sun. THEN the Corps. show up and are like "We're here! Oh, wait, you won already? Guess we don't get to do anything at all, even though we're totally badass." It's a massive case of blue balls. Er, green balls.  
-Some things don't make sense.
I won't spend too much time on this point because on a whole things surprisingly made sense. I actually thought the film did a good job of effectively introducing a blank-slate audience to the concept of the Green Lantern Corps. But there were a couple things that bothered me about certain points of this movie.
One is really blatant and takes place when Hal Jordan is picked up by the Lantern ring and brought to Abin Sur, the dying purple alien. It picks him up during the day, then drops him off at night. Did it take him half a day away? Did it drop him off in the middle of Russia somewhere? Well, no, because his buddy picks him up a little bit later. And the Lantern was transporting him really quickly. So the only logical solution is that the filmmakers thought the scene would be cooler at night, so they either didn't notice the discrepancy or chose to have it not make sense because the scene looked cool.
Also, towards the end of the movie, Sinestro goes to the Guardians (those little blue guys that run the Corps.) and convinces them to make a yellow power ring from fear energy. Then Hal Jordan shows up for no reason other than the plot needs him to and starts acting like he knows everything about what's going on. First, the only thing he knows about all this is that he fought Hector Hammond, who was infected with this energy. Second, he doesn't know anything else. I don't even think he knew they were having this meeting. He just strolls in and is like "You can't do that! Because it's not right!" Why? "Because the writers told me it's not." Use some of the additional time you'd have from cutting all that unnecessary stuff we described earlier to flesh this out a bit.
A small thing that really bothered me was how Hammond went off about how unprecedented Abin Sur (the dead alien) being a humanoid was, and then immediately leapt to the conclusion that we have a common ancestor. If this was his field of expertise (which it was), then he should know that it would make perfect sense for an alien's body to be humanoid in form. Evolution works on a theory of survival of the fittest. As long as Abin Sur's species evolved on a planet where things could eat them, it makes sense that their eyes would be at a high point on their bodies (rather than, you know, in their knee caps or something), etc... It doesn't mean we came from some common ancestor. It just seemed a weird, out-of-place comment coming from a scientist who was specialized enough to be considered for this post.
-It tries too hard to be epic.
Sinestro makes epic speeches in this movie like it's his job (which it might actually be, because the Lanterns just seem to wait around not patrolling their sectors apparently in hopes of hearing him give a speech). The problem is it becomes commonplace. If you have a bunch of epic speeches in one movie, suddenly none of them are epic. They're not placed at dramatic points, they're just there to show he's kind of the unofficial leader of the corps. We get that, save his speech for an epic moment. 
Instead of him giving several speeches that, at best, rouse the corps. to yell about how they're the corps, imagine this:
Hal Jordan spends time with Sinestro. Sinestro doesn't trust Hal as a human, but wants to strengthen this 'weak link.' Hal learns about this yellow energy stuff and doesn't like it. He goes back to Earth, deals with Hector Hammond, then sees Parallax is bearing down on Earth. Not because it wants to destroy Earth, but because Earth just happens to be in its path on its way to OA. Hal rushes back to OA and finds Sinestro trying to convince the Guardians to use the yellow energy. They're about to consent, but Hal gives a rousing argument for the power of will. The Guardians side with Hal, Sinestro isn't pleased but will do his duty. He calls the Lanterns together, gives a speech, then the Corps. flies off to confront Parallax as it starts demolishing Earth.
Here, things make a bit more sense, there's more payoff, and the epic speech is timed at a dramatic point. He's leading a bunch of Lanterns off knowing many of them will die. But it's their duty. And to make matters worse, he thinks the better plan (using yellow energy) was shelved, but he's going through with it anyway because he is a Green Lantern. This could be played with in later films when Sinestro has had enough of the Guardians nixing his plans from on high and goes rogue (sorry for the spoilers, but did you really think a guy who's name is derived from "sinister" wouldn't go bad?). Instead, Sinestro always gets what he wants, so why rebel? He's got it pretty good.
The film just tries too hard to be epic. "Star Wars's" epic feel was more organic, arising from what happened in the story. There were no real big speeches that felt planned by writers. There was a simple "May the Force be with you" and then they're off trying to save the galaxy from a giant flying death machine. "Green Lantern's" epic atmosphere felt a bit contrived, with Sinestro walking around giving speeches and Hal Jordan showing up at just the right time to argue against making a yellow ring and then punching fear incarnate into the sun. 
-Also, Blake Lively as Carol Ferris didn't feel like the fighter pilot/businesswoman she was made out to be.
But whatever.
Now the good.

-The acting was fairly solid. 

Sinestro was great, though his character felt misused. And Ryan Reynolds was good too, even if Nathan Fillion will forever be Hal Jordan in my mind. It wasn't anything earth-shattering, but the performances all felt real enough for a movie about a guy flying through space in a green suit.
-The movie did a good job introducing people to the Green Lantern Corps.
Let's face it, comics are confusing. Every new story is based on an old story, and continuity just spirals off in every which way. The writers here did a good job introducing a blank-slate audience to the idea of the Green Lantern Corps. simply and efficiently, and that's no small feat.
-It did Sinestro well.

In the comics, Sinestro turns against the Green Lantern Corps. and starts his own Sinestro Corps. based in fear power. "Green Lantern" did well in building Sinestro as a great, powerful leader within the corps. (though it should have shown a bit more, and shown more of a relationship between Hal and Sinestro, in my opinion). That way, his betrayal actually means something in the inevitable sequel. 
Many other reviews will say this film is on the level of "X-Men 3: The Last Stand," "Batman and Robin" or "Battlefield Earth." That is not true. Those films failed on virtually every level of execution. "Green Lantern's" failings are mainly on a script level. Unnecessary characters and scenes weigh down the film. All in all, the film felt like a solid second draft that could have been an excellent film if given a few more rewrites.
I know this critique comes off rather harsh. Let me be clear: I do not think "Green Lantern" is an awful movie. I'd give it a passing grade, but not by all that much. It's a step above "Batman: Forever," "Daredevil," and "Hulk," but below superhero movies like "Batman" and "Spiderman." And in a year when superhero films exceeded expectations ("Thor" and "X-Men: First Class" were incredibly fun and well-crafted, and hopefully "Captain America" will be as well), "Green Lantern's" more average fair dragged down the brand a bit.
A director's cut DVD (or a fan edit) is in order: one in which the director cuts the film down from its theatrical runtime. Tightening up the content of the current film may not fix all the movie's problems, but it will certainly raise the quality a few notches and turn a 2-hour film that felt like 3 hours into a shorter movie that is a bit more enjoyable. That's the movie I want to see.

(Picture used under fair use).

mk - 7/5/2011, 1:09 AM
intro was great in the movie.. then i just dont know what happened after that..
CraptainAmerica - 7/5/2011, 2:47 AM
Great editorial. It was not harsh, but fair. Instead of jumping on the movie and discarding it's positives this is the way it should be done. Sensible writing and impartial writing
CeltiC527 - 7/5/2011, 3:13 AM
Your section about how some things dont make sense, doesnt make sense.
Did you even watch the movie? The ring picked up Hal a at like dawn so the sun was going down. Also Hal was there when parallax was communicating with Hammond so he heard everything that parallax said. And he also told the guardians they cant use the yellow ring because he saw that the yellow power can corrupt people like Hector Hammond. And im pretty sure that scene with Hector talking about how humanoid Abin looks had no meaning behind it and just showed how weird Hammond was.
ironpool007 - 7/5/2011, 4:49 AM
Actually the movie should have been longer. A full half hour or 45 mins would have made a big difference. And I'll bet that Campbell actually shot way more than what was shown. Look at Goldeneye and Casino Royale. Both of those movies were somewhat long and therefore had plenty of time to move their plots forward and develop their characters. This was especially the case for Casino Royale which showed Bond's origin and required him to grow as a character. Why Warner Brothers didn't trust Campbell to work his magic here is beyond me. This was all around a good critique of the film. Although, this movie is way more enjoyable than Batman Forever. I would put more in the league of Daredevil.
marvel72 - 7/5/2011, 6:46 AM
the good

-the intro
-the stuff on oa
-hal vs parallax

the bad

-blake lively,there was more live in hal's constructs
-hector hammond over the top shit villain
-hal's friend was a douche
-tim robbins & that black woman can't remember her name
-bad cgi in places
-bad writing
-bad musical score
-bad editing
-bad directing
THEDARKKNIGHT1939 - 7/5/2011, 12:06 PM
Couldn't agree with you more. There needs to be a reboot in about 5 years
superbatspiderman - 7/5/2011, 12:36 PM
This is like the 100th article I have seen about how Green Lantern and how it could have been better. I thought green lantern was a pretty good movie and it is what it is and we can't do anything about it.
SpiderFan35 - 7/5/2011, 2:55 PM
Great millionth review of a mediocre movie. Please use your Green Lantern fandom powers to get that annoying ad removed from the site before everyone's distaste for GL turns into blind rage.
I can't believe the obnoxious marketing continues to haunt us.
SpiderFan35 - 7/5/2011, 3:07 PM
and every night...
this thing attacks my sense of sight.
Let those who run the CBM site...
use their power...
and remove that annoying fvcking ad before it drives us all nuts.

HulkPool - 7/5/2011, 4:48 PM
If anyone else read the prequel comics ten you know they Burt the film by not having some of those scenes in it, should have shown tomar and sinestro talk g about Hal as he was scanned and should have shown tomar on Ryut instead of trying to make mOney w/ the comics add some of these thing to the movie and it would have helped the story. That's only one of the problems
HulkPool - 7/5/2011, 4:53 PM
Oh yea parallax in the movie didn't go to earth for no reason, when Hal touched Hammond w/ the ring parallax felt the power of abin surs old ring and wanted to destroy his replacement, and that is how hal knew about the threa of parallax to be able to tell the guardians so that is two thing that you were wrong about in. You article but still, nice work
ironpool007 - 7/5/2011, 6:14 PM
@SpiderFan: Thank you for mentioning that. All those adds that just pop up out of nowhere while I'm browsing on here ruin the otherwise good experience that I have on CBM.
BetaRay28 - 7/6/2011, 4:29 PM
The biggest issue with GL movie was the Dawson's Creek like cast Ryan Reynolds did a good job but didn't come across as the Hal Jordon we all know this was WB wanting youth for several movies now we may have to wait years for a reboot and who's to say that would work.WB needs to take a page from Nolan and even Marvel don't go fro youth find the best people for the parts.
thegreek - 7/6/2011, 8:45 PM
I have said before and i'll say it again ... Pardon me if i com off harsh But....

I AM SICK AND TIRED OF PEOPLE COMPLAINING ABOUT THIS MOVIE... It may have not been the greatest CMB ever made but far from the WORST may i remind you all of STEEL ... Geez the VFX were simply amazing and BELIEVABLE... For godsake people you had Aliens that looked like they were real. I went with a person who knew nothing of GL and she loved the movie granted she liked Thor better but she was like it was not a horrible movie...

Thor I saw and loved but there was no real action only the beginning and the end. GL had action in the in what action actually meaning pretty much throughout... from the Plane fighters.. to when he was in OA training to fighting Hector Hammond and then Parallex ... Plus the ending was sweet with Sinestro putting on the yellow ring... And the acting was good I did not see anything wrong with any of the actors acting and RR did a good job even though i was not keen on him being Hal he played him very well..

Cut the baby crap and admit it was a good movie .. not Great but an overall good movie... Story was solid what else do you people want ... quit your bitching and get off your high horses... stop being the critics we all tend to hate... If you don't think it was good you go make one better then .... GEEZ
thegreek - 7/6/2011, 8:46 PM
Shit my personnally feeling of a great scene was when he was fighting Parallex and said the oath to over come his FEAR of not being good enough to beat him... And there were quite a few others like the training and giving Hammond the ring... The VFX were astonishing if people here say it was unrealistic they most be taking some really good drugs not to see how great it was..
ShadowlordSavage - 7/7/2011, 7:43 AM
Either way whether you like the movie or not the money doesn't lie, critics and word of mouth seemed have hurt it too. Potential was wasted, however, if (and that's a big if)they can learn from their mistakes GL could be WB/DC's next big franchise. As I said the potential is there the execution was just piss poor this time. If they do make a sequel it has to be leaps and bounds better because it's going to be harder now that audiences and critic had a bad taste in their mouths with this film. I'm a fan of Marvel and DC, but DC does seem to be making so risky decisions and WB hurts it with there poor decisions with the movies. Batman isn't enough they got to get other heroes out there and take them more seriously and produce better films.
davidking - 7/12/2011, 5:05 AM
A film that failed all the tests of storytelling 101. And one that had the potential to change the game. Such a shame... Check this review:
humbleme - 7/13/2011, 2:20 PM
Very good review.

I think removing Hammond's backstory and using the whole Corps on Parallax, with Hal figuring out the 'answer' in the end, would have made the movie, on the whole,immeasurably better. Parallax should have been the villain with instant backstory and no buildup, the early movie threat. Parallax should have been built up until the climax. Instead, they switched it, and it made for a horrible experience.

Despite the movie being above average, it failed on things that people take very seriously, and it did so surrounded by high quality comic book movies, making the failings "unforgivable." Bagging on this movie became a sport, which is unfortunate, because I would absolutely love to see a Director's cut and a Sequel.

SpiderFan35 - 7/15/2011, 12:28 PM
@ davidking (and everyone else): The review mentioned above in davidking's post is excellent. It covers everything.
Read it and you won't ever need to read another GL review.
Nice find!

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